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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Free Fallin

Roatan, nicknamed "the Big Island", is found 40 miles North of Honduras and is a mecca for divers. Now that Cayman Airways do direct flights to Roatan, there really was no excuse to go and visit as they're just over an hours flight away.

 We stayed at Half Moon Bay on the West End of Roatan and hooked up with Roatan Divers who had a solid reputation and were conveniently only a 3 minute walk along the beach from our hotel. 

Being an salty old diver, I like to set up and check my own kit but Russell and the rest of the crew will quite happily be at your beck and call to do your bidding if you prefer not to wrestle with your own equipment and have a lazy time of it.

 Most dive sites were minutes away by boat, the furthest being 7 minutes so that gives you and idea of how quick you'll be getting wet. Forget your morning coffee as your wake up call, just roll off a boat!

The quality of diving on Roatan is excellent, easily as good as diving on Cayman with similar conditions, marine life and topography. I sometimes forget how spoiled we get with all this warm water and endless visibility, makes me long for the good old days of drysuits in Scotland. But I digress. The West End is a fantastic array of colours with voluminous hard coral formations topped off with a plethora of ginormous barrel sponges.

Conditions whilst we were there were flat calm with barely a ripple and on most occasions during the week the Roatan Aggressor was moored up a couple of buoys along from us. So if you want to save a pile of cash, forget the live aboard and just do the day boat diving.

Some of the memorable sites worth a visit were Melissa's Reef which gave you a good mix of scenery, depth and marine life, particularly if you're a shutter bug, with a great selection of rope and barrel sponges along with some nice gorgonias and cruising fusiliers to brighten the place up.

I would be remiss if I neglected the small stuff and somewhere like Eddie's Trifecta is an ideal spot for the macro lovers. It's a hotbed of action for seahorses, pipefish and nudis. We got two of the three on the day. 

We also had a large selection of gobies, blennies, arrow crabs, barber shrimp and lizard fish to name a few. It was like being a kid in a sweet shop, too many options and you want them all to yourself.

One thing that took me by surprise is the sheer volume of sharpnose pufferfish. These things are everywhere you go, on every dive site, everywhere you look. They must breed like rabbits down here, possibly to do with the Viagra in the water or something.....

Did I also mention the turtles? Yep, quite a few hawkbills and greens with occasional loggerhead sighting. And yes, typically the big stuff will turn up when you are rigged up for macro, It's the unwritten law of underwater photography.

You can do three dives a day but we opted to just do two in the morning and chill the rest of the day as it was a "recharge the batteries" kind of holiday as opposed to a "balls to the wall" diving experience. It was a nice chilling week away.

Roatan Divers had two main boats with a third on hand if required and soon to have a fourth boat to be added to the fleet. Rental kit is available if you don't want hump your own and is in good clean serviceable condition with separate rinsing facilities for wetsuits, BCD's, masks and cameras.

There's plenty of options as far as food and drink goes at Half Moon Bay as everything is in walking distance and you can walk the main drag in about 6 minutes. Noteworthy mentions were Gingers, three feet away from the waters edge and 8 feet away from the dive shop. Good tasty simple food and plenty of it with some nice burgers and Mexican food. Most places you go will also serve monkey lala cocktails. Well worth sampling. Lots of times.....

And if you go to Oasis, you get great original food, but they're known for having the best ribs on the island. Their menu changes on an almost daily basis but the one thing that's always available is the ribs, and they are superb. Go for a half rack if you are a normal person or a full rack if you are a fat bastard.

Roatan, easy to get to, easy diving, great scenery and marine life, friendly people, good food and drink, not outrageously expensive and one of the best things about Roatan?  They have hummingbirds!!!!!  They're so fluffy!!! I love these things!!!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Permanent Waves

I know my posting a has been a bit spotty the last few weeks but I do honestly have some good excuses for that. Firstly my wife has abandoned me to go to the states and has been there for the last three weeks, so no model/dive buddy. 

Secondly, if you haven't been following the weather we've been getting some serious hurricanes ripping through the Caribbean. Thankfully for us (but not for some other islands) we've managed to dodge the bullet so far, but we have been getting the after affects which has precluded any diving.

On the upside, weather permitting, we will be in Roatan in two weeks, so hopefully I'll have one of two nice pictures for a decent blog update. Stay tuned.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Every breath you take

Captain Nige, dive instructor, boat captain and scourge of lionfish everywhere has a book out which is worth a read if you have questions about air consumption and how to improve it. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

Link: HERE

I'll let him tell you in his own words........

"Customers have been suggesting for years that I write this book because I’m regularly suggesting tips for how to improve their air consumption and a lot of them have really benefited, and enjoy their vacations so much more. With the help of many real life examples this book will help you improve your dive times and ensure you have a happy buddy."

" This book is ideal for many divers both inexperienced or for those who have filled up many dive logs, but have not yet mastered the art of excellent air consumption. It’s a 42 page pdf e-book download so you can read it on your laptop, tablet or phone with any PDF reader. Read it at home before your vacation, then take it with you and re-read it before your dive for last minute tips."

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Hard Road

You know it's going to be an interesting dive when you see the fish struggling against the current. Conditions at the surface were as good as you could expect them to be with a 2-3 knots NE at the surface, relatively flat with good viz. 

Under the water was a different matter with a ripping Northerly current that was a challenge and a half to work against. But then we were in the throws of tropical storm Harvey passing us down South which would later bring torrential rain and thunderstorms.

A lot of the dive was spent in the shelter of the Nicholson as there really wasn't anywhere else we could go. I had to dump all my air, dig my heels into the sand and lean back as far as I could into the current to keep steady and Jill had to swim like a mad bugger to stay in frame. Who said underwater photography was all fun and glamour? Spot and Brutus came to hang out with us for a while, which was nice but I think even they got tired out.

We went out to the main wall to check things out but is was exactly as expected, complete washout so we came back to the Nicholson for some more shots from the interior with a few more friends..

Not much bottom time to be had today, which was a real shame but that's the way things go. There's always another day for a dive. If next weekend has currents like this, I'll need some concrete fins to keep me in place!......

Oh, and there's some random video of the dive below from my Youtube channel if anyone is interested.......

Link: HERE

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Killing in the name of

Link: HERE

Captain Nige makes headlines, and for all the right reasons this time (we don't talk about that incident involving 6 gallons of cider, 3 ferrets and a combine harvester).

Well done Nige, a grand achievement and something that all the cullers can aspire to.

"Last weekend, East End dive instructor Nigel Coles killed his 10,000 lionfish since the spcies was first spotted in the Caymans, That is an average of 3.5 lionfish a day sin September 2009."

"This weekend he took his tally past the 10,000 mark – an achievement that has not only helped protect East End reefs, but has also paid for his boat.
Mr. Coles, who dives with his wife and “spotter” Deby, sells his catch to chefs at Morritt’s Tortuga Club and the Rum Point restaurant, which serve them to tourists."

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Silver & Gold

Been a few years since we were last at Devil's Grotto, but then there's never any real reason to dive there unless the silversides are out. It now was the time for the Silversides. There's nothing quite like squirming through the narrow tunnels and swimthroughs whilst surrounded by thousands of silversides with the occasional  squadron of tarpons cruising past for a feed.

And seeing as it was a Saturday ( are time for me to be off) Miss Sarah was able to come along for the odd pose or two in front of the camera.

The Silversides have been absent the last couple of years and even this year, there hasn't been nearly as may as previously but it was still good to have a dive in amongst them. And I still haven't lost my sense of direction either........

So we twatted around in the Grotto for awhile before me moved over to have a swim through Eden Rock.

I'll tell you what though, the swim through under Eden Rock was a sh*t load narrower than I remember it. And it certainly didn't help with having to fight the local residents to get some elbow room. Or maybe its just that I have longer arms on my camera these days.......

But anyways, the silversides have come and gone now, and maybe we'll see them again next year. Oh, and there's a little video below as well. Not the greatest as video is never a priority when I've got the camera in the water but you get the idea. Till next time.



Monday, 31 July 2017

Monkey Wrench - Pandora Tool Review

Disclaimer: I bought and paid for this with my own money. This article is purely my own opinion. Do not attempt to service your own equipment unless you are trained/know what the hell you're doing.

So I'd seen this scuba multi tool over the last few months and found it and interesting proposition for people like me who like to be prepared for every eventuality on dives but don't want to necessarily lug around a tool box. I've tried several multi tools over the years with little satisfaction, so could this be the answer to a divers prayers?

The Pandora tool comes in a couple of options, both stainless steel and titanium with the titanium option costing twice the price of the stainless option. Me being poor, I opted for the stainless version. The stainless version comes in at 50g. and is rated for 5Nm and the titanium is 28g and rated for 12Nm. There's yet another another option to consider when ordering and that is whether you need a "type A" or "type B" tool. Type A is listed for millimetre types hoses and B for inch type hoses. Check below.

I opted for "Type A" tool even though it's designated for Scubapro, Aqualung, etc. All my regs are Apeks XTX 200s and 50s and I had no problem with the Pandora tool taking everything apart. I suspect "Type B" may be for the older AT/ATX series, but I can't confirm this until I someone brings an older set into the shop for me to experiment on.

Whats in box?

Ok, so for your money the Pandora tool comes in a sealed sleeve, clearly marked with the version you ordered along with an A4 pictorial quick reference on when you would use a specific part of the tool along with a promo flyer with a mini service flow chart on the back and a bigger flow chart for taking care of a free flowing reg. A few little typos in the text but nothing to get excited about.

The tool itself is very well made on first glances, with no sharp edges. However, one thing I noticed straight of the bat is that it is really difficult to get any purchase on the tool when using it for first stage disassembly. There's just no way to get enough leverage on such a short tool, not unless you've got the grip strength of Popeye or want to destroy your hand.

A good remedy to this I think would be for the tool to come in a metal sheath that you could attach onto the tool to allow for more leverage/better grip. This is something I'm looking at fabricating for myself and maybe something for the the company to think about for the next revision.

Another small niggle that I found is that the stainless version twisted out of shape quite easily when working on K type inflator valves, something I suspect that the titanium version would be able to handle without any problems given the stronger material and Nm rating.

If you are looking for a good all round scuba tool which can perform most tasks (with a little assistance) and can afford it, definitely go for the titanium version. Yes it is pricey but I feel it would perform better than the stainless version in a few key areas.

It sound's like I'm giving the Pandora tool a good kicking but let me put it into perspective, it's one of the best all-in-one scuba tools I've tried although it does have it's problems which I think could be easily overcome in the future revisions. The Pandora tool is something I'll be packing with me one every dive trip, but I will still be taking a set of allen keys and a small adjustable wrench as well. 

I give it a solid 6.5 out of ten for now and I look forward to seeing what happens to future revisions of this handy little tool.


-Pretty much has everything that you need to take apart 1st and 2nd stages.
-Small, light and compact tool. 
-Excellent accompanying literature.


-Stainless steel version prone to bending out of shape.
-Tool is too small with insufficient leverage for certain tasks.
-Titanium version looks the better tool but pricey.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

House of blue lights - Orca Torch D820V review

Disclaimer first. I do not work for nor am I affiliated with Orca Torch in any way. I did not pay for this product, Orca Torch were kind enough to send me a sample for testing.

Link: HERE

Ok so with that stuff out the way, lets get on with it. If you're not familiar with Orca Torch, then you should be as they have been making a splash (ho-ho!) in the diving community with their high quality, relatively inexpensive (compared to a lot of other brands out there) dive and video lights. I've used Orca dive lights before after borrowing them from other people and have been suitably impressed when comparing them to the usual suspects such as Underwater Kinetics, Princeton, Greenforce, Sealife and Kowalski, all of which I've used over the years, so I was keen to see how the this unit would perform.

Bearing in mind this a test unit for the D820V video light, so box branding, and possibly contents are yet to be finalised.

Unassuming on the outside......
Full of light emitting goodness on the inside
Arriving in a plain black box, sans branding, opening it up was like a Christmas morning, with just slightly less alcohol and fewer family arguments. The contents consisted of the video light, a 26650 4000mAh Li-ion battery, micro USB cable, wrist lanyard, spare o-rings and a mounting bracket. 

Now you're probably wondering "where's the battery charger?". Never fear my aquatic chums, for Orca Torch have a nice surprise for you. If you're like me and hate having to carry around multiple chargers, cables, etc, etc, when travelling around the globe, then you'll love this. Unscrewing the tail of the unit gives you access to the USB socket. Unscrewing the USB socket in turn gives you access to the battery compartment. Battery in, USB socket back in place and "Voila!", all you need to do for charging is unscrew the tail, plug in the USB cable and you're all set. No heavy, clunky proprietary chargers to carry around. Awesome.

USB cap unscrewed, battery cavity at the ready
USB cap in place and ready to charge.
There's also a handy LED indicator to let you know when the unit is charging and when it's good to go, so no guess work needed here.

Red for charging, green for "set lights to stun, Mr Sulu!"

Initial impressions of the unit are excellent, with high quality machine milled aircraft grade aluminium parts, clean threading and all sections come apart and go together easily with no sticking or grinding. Weight wise it comes in at 243 grams without the battery and 341 grams with the battery. For comparison, you're looking at 178 grams for a fully loaded UK mini Q40 LED. Length comes in at just under 15.5cm and the head unit being the widest part at 4.5cm and fits nice and snugly in the hand should you choose to carry it.

Just to give you an idea of size, I compared it to the aforementioned UK mini Q40 LED and an L&M Sola video 3000, just so you've got an idea of the size as you can see below. So it's not the smallest video light but it certainly isn't a porker either and will easily fit into a BC pocket if required.

D820V, UK mini Q40 LED and SOLA 3000
 I chose to use the supplied ball joint mount bracket to perch it on the camera port for my macro configuration, but you can mount it wherever your own setup and fancies take you.

Ready for super macro action
 Output on high power is quoted at 1200 lumens with a nice white even beam. There is a low power setting which is 400 lumens. But that's not all folks as the D820V has yet some more surprises in store. Take a look below and tell me what you see. I'll wait here..........

Can you see it?
Yep, in addition to the white CREE LEDs, you have a pair of red LEDs on top and a pair of UV LEDs below so you get all the colours of the rainbow in one neat convenient package. Again, I don't have the figures for the red and UV output but they were more than up to the challenge during night diving. Having used UV lights by L&M and UK, it was refreshing to have them packed into one unit as this negates having to carry around multiple lights as it really is a pain swapping from one to another when you want to use UV for picking out the colour at night or the red for making sure you don't scare away the critters.

The single switch on top of the head unit controls everything with a press turning the unit on at full power, a second press switching to low power, a third press for off. Holding the switch brings on the UV and a second press the red. Simple and easy to use. 

Press here to start........

You can get some idea from the shots I took with the light against the wall. A nice, even consistent spread in every case.

Let there be light!
"So enough waffle, how did it perform in the real world?" I hear you say. Well I can say that it acquitted itself admirably. I was very pleased with the performance in the water providing plenty of light during bright sunny conditions to allow me to more easily distinguish potential  subjects in the water and to allow the lens to achieve a lock with minimal hunting. For the shots below, I turned my strobes off and was using just the D820V as a light source.

 I left the light on full power for the duration of the dive which was just over 2 hours, and it lasted just fine. This is more than enough juice for the average user and something that would last over a couple or three of average dives before recharging would be necessary. The only thing I would liked to have seen is a wet connect for charging, negating the need to open up the unit but that's just a very minor niggle on my part. Maybe I'm just lazy or old or both.

In summary, this is a really nice video light, with the additional benefit of having the red and UV LED built in to a compact, very well made chassis with convenient to use USB charging capabilities. You can easily use this as a regular dive light at a pinch if you don't want to go nuts and buy multiple lights, this one would pretty much do it all for you. This is definitely recommended for photographers and videographer/action cam users out there, and if the price at release is in line with the rest of the Orca range, then this light would be very competitive against the "established" names out there. 

It easily earns itself a well deserved 8.5 out of 10 rating.

On a final note, if you're looking for a light, give the Orca Torch website a look as they have quite a varied selection and I don't think you'll be disappointed if you got one. Or two.